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Former Village People member wins court fight to reclaim song rights

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Victor Willis, the original lead singer of The Village People appears at a nearby store to sign autographs while the current members are honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 12, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter
Victor Willis, the original lead singer of The Village People, signs autographs as the group is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 12, 2008, in Los Angeles.
Getty

(CBS/AP) The Village People's original lead singer can now reclaim at least partial ownership of the copyrights to more than two dozen of the group's songs, including "Y.M.C.A.," "Macho Man" and "In the Navy."

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U.S. District Judge Barry T. Moskowitz on Monday rejected a lawsuit by two music publishers who argued singer-songwriter Victor Willis had no right to regain ownership of 33 songs he co-wrote for the group under contract.

"The Court concludes that a joint author who separately transfers his copyright interest may unilaterally terminate the grant," the judge wrote.

It's the first test of a decades-old copyright provision and could mean millions in additional royalties for Willis, who wrote the group's big hits and sported a policeman persona in the group.

"I'm extremely pleased with the court's determination," Willis said in a statement. "And I look forward to controlling my copyright interests in 2013, as the law provides."

Stewart Levy, an attorney for Scorpio Music and Can't Stop Productions, tells the New York Times it doesn't lay out how much Willis will get and the case is far from over.

Still, some say the move could mean bigger things for other artists who try to reclaim ownership of their hit records down the line.

"To say this decision will send shock waves through the record industry [as] artists [are] seeking to take back their copyrights is an understatement," says Willis' publicist, Linda Smythe, according to the Hollywood Reporter.